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PORK INSERTIONS FEARED

Budget bill recalled due to House members’ P90-B requests

By: - Reporter / @deejayapINQ
/ 07:23 AM September 04, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The House leadership has been flooded with requests from lawmakers seeking P70 billion to P90 billion in public works funding for their districts that had either been slashed during preparation or vetoed from the 2019 budget, according to the chair of the House appropriations panel.

The requests and complaints by the House members were largely to blame for last week’s unexpected recall of the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab confirmed to reporters on Tuesday.

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“I truly understand their sentiments because they lost regular projects,” he told reporters.

Unfortunately, Ungab added, the money would have to come from somewhere, particularly agencies whose budgets would have to be cut to offset the changes, since lawmakers cannot add to or subtract from the P4.1-trillion budget proposal.

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They may only realign items or move them from one agency to another.

It was Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. who moved for the withdrawal of the 2020 general appropriations bill (GAB) during the Aug. 28 session with the intent of making alterations.

But Ungab opposed the move, arguing that the bill should be a faithful copy of the national expenditure program submitted by the executive to Congress.

The withdrawal sparked concerns that the temporary pullout of the spending bill could lead to congressional pork insertions reminiscent of the controversy that delayed passage of the 2019 budget from late 2018 to April.

Ungab and Villafuerte, after a meeting with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday, came to an agreement to send the spending bill back to the appropriations committee this week, though it wasn’t clear if amendments would still be allowed in the final copy.

68 lawmakers

Ungab said about 68 lawmakers had expressed a desire to amend the GAB to realign funds to accommodate public works projects in their districts.

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Villafuerte believes the House will be within its rights to file a GAB that deviates from the national expenditure program.

But Ungab thinks otherwise, arguing it is tradition that the GAB is a virtual copy of the President’s budget and any changes may only be introduced during the period of amendments after second-reading approval in plenary session.

Quandary

In the interview, Ungab admitted he was put in a quandary by the requests from his colleagues, especially those whose districts lost funding, during his committee’s deliberation on the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

“There were two occasions [that caused them to lose funds]—I studied what happened—those whose budgets were slashed during budget preparations in the House, and accordingly those who were vetoed. In my view, I sympathize with them. I understand what they want but the amount is too big,” he said.

P95.3B vetoed

In April, President Duterte vetoed portions of this year’s P3.7-trillion budget containing P95.3 billion worth of budgetary items “inserted” by lawmakers.

So for next year, many lawmakers want those funds back, Ungab said.

“That’s P70 to P90 billion,” he said. “It’s a large amount. It is very hard to put it now. I have to explain to them because if you insert that, you will be reducing [the budget of other units].”

Ungab urged the requesting lawmakers to be patient.

“I appeal to them; I talk to those who approach me and tell them if it’s possible to put off their request in the 2020 budget. We will meet again, and after that we will really come up with a formal meeting or hearing,” he said.

Ungab said the Department of Budget and Management and the DPWH would be invited to the hearing to get an account of what happened. “From that, we start from there. Then we look at possible solutions, we look at the possible funding.”

He said a supplemental budget for next year could be one of those solutions, though that would have to be studied.

Approval by October

The House leadership is targeting approval of the 2020 budget bill by the first week of October to avoid a repeat of last year’s monthslong delay arising from accusations and counter-accusations of pork insertions in the spending bill.

Pork refers to discretionary and lump-sum items for the pet projects of lawmakers and is a source of kickbacks.

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TAGS: 2020 national budget, Alan Peter Cayetano, Isidro Ungab, Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., pork insertions
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